"Strengths and weaknesses" bills die in Texas

Texas state flag

When the Texas state legislature adjourned sine die on May 29, 2023, a pair of identical bills that would have harmed science education, House Bill 1804 and Senate Bill 2089, died in committee. If enacted, the bills would have amended the state education code to require that instructional material adopted by the state board of education "present a scientific theory in an objective educational manner that: (i) clearly distinguishes the theory from fact; and (ii) includes evidence for both the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory."

Clause (i) appears to reflect a common misconception about facts and theories. "In scientific terms, 'theory' does not mean 'guess' or 'hunch' as it does in everyday usage," as the National Academy of Science explained in its publication Science and Creationism, second edition (1999). "Scientific theories are explanations of natural phenomena built up logically from testable observations and hypotheses. Biological evolution is the best scientific explanation we have for the enormous range of observations about the living world. ... [S]cientists can also use ["fact"] to mean something that has been tested or observed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing or looking for examples. The occurrence of evolution in this sense is a fact."

Clause (ii) betrays the intention of the bills. As The New York Times editorialized of the phrase "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" in 2008, "This is code for teaching creationism." Employed by proponents of "creation science" and "intelligent design" alike, the phrase appears in antievolution laws enacted in Louisiana in 2008 and Tennessee in 2012. In 2017, Texas's House Bill 1485 would ostensibly have provided Texas science teachers with the academic freedom to teach "the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of scientific theories discussed in the state science standards; after receiving a public hearing, during which a member of the state board of education testified that the bill would allow the teaching of creationism, the bill died in committee, as NCSE previously reported.

House Bill 1804 was sponsored by Terri Leo-Wilson (R-District 23), who previously served three terms on the state board of education (as Terri Leo) where she continually sought to undermine the treatment of evolution in the state science standards and in textbooks submitted for state adoption; Senate Bill 2089 was sponsored by Brandon Creighton (R-District 4). Both bills received committee hearings, during which public comment was heard and amendments were proposed, but neither bill came to a committee vote.

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.